Thursday, December 22, 2011

Memorable Moments of 2011

There was a great deal of great theatre in Pittsburgh in 2011.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see as much as I usually do (mostly because I was busy actually doing theatre), but looking back, there were some memorable contributions.  Instead of trying to choose “a best,” I have decided to recognize all the work that remains pleasantly in my memory…
Scenic designers transformed local stages into London, the deep South, Amish country and the living room of a college professor.
The brilliant Tony Ferrieri made it rain—and also featured a pool of water—in City Theatre’s The Secret of Sweet.  Bob Frawley’s set for Mary Poppins took the audience all over early 1900’s London—both in color and stunning black-and-white.  No name’s The Book of Liz featured stunning set by painting by Alanna James.  And T.J. Firneno beautifully captured a 1960’s home in the Summer Company’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Supporting actors are amazing to me.  Given fewer lines and less stage time, they work hard to make the leads look good.  And 2011 saw some excellent examples of this…
Daina Michelle Griffith was outstanding as the perky New York transplant “Theresa” in the Pittsburgh Public Theatre’s production of Circle Mirror Transformation.  As “Lucy” in Jekyll and Hyde, Elizabeth Stanley brought her amazing vocal talents to the production.  Todd Betker gave the performance of his career so far as the bath tub-bound brother in no name theatre’s production of The Mistakes Madeline Made.  The same production also featured Don DiGuilio as the lovable geek “Wilson.” Not only did he give a very funny performance—but Mark Yoachum also transformed himself into a rhinoceros in the Summer Company’s Rhinoceros.  And I can’t talk about supporting performances without mentioning the powerful star turn of Curt Hanson as “Gabe” in the musical Next to Normal.
There were also some very memorable performances by lead actors this past year.
Havon Burton as “Fiona” in Shrek, the Musical was a true delight.  Rachel Downie was hysterically funny—and played a mean timpani—in Off The Wall’s production of boom.  Stealing the Public Theatre’s Gods of Carnage was Deirdre Madigan as crazed mom “Veronica.” Mamie Parris gave a memorable (and musical stunning) performance as “Judy” in the musical 9 to 5.  Jamie Slavinsky answers a stranger’s cell phone and is beautifully sucked down a rabbit hole as “Jean” in Organic Theatre’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone.  And John Lane, who is usually behind the scenes, stepped into the limelight to give an incredible performance as “George” in the Summer Company’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Overall, shows that truly entertained me during 2011 include the musical Next to Normal, Off The Wall’s very funny boomthe well-acted One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at McKeesport Little Theatre, Organic Theatre’s unusual Dead Man’s Cell Phone and no name’s quirky The Mistakes Madeline Made.
I am looking forward to more great theatre in Pittsburgh in 2012!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Say "YES" to the YES

Outside the Pascal home in Washington DC, a hurricane is raging, but it’s nothing compared to the storm that’s going on inside.
And while every family has it’s share of skeletons in the closet, the Pascals have some of the worst—and they’re all about to be revealed when Marty brings his fiancée Lesly home to meet his clan.
That’s the basis for dark comedy The House of Yes by Wendy MacLeod, the current production at Off The Wall Productions in Washington PA.
Director Robyne Parrish opens the play with a stylized and highly choreographed dance that sets the tone for the madness that’s to follow in the next ninety minutes.
Mrs. Pascal, matriarch of this odd family, is played to perfection by Virginia Wall Gruenert.  Awash in marabou (and wearing amazing shoes), she is a gorgon of a mother.  Constantly darting between maternal denial and emotional blackmail, Gruenert spouts platitudes about family, motherhood and the Kennedys—all delivered with a rapier sharp edge.  She has a real knack for delivering Pascal’s deadly one-liners.
Mrs. Pascal has three children; she’s not sure who any of their fathers might be.  Yes, it could be her husband, but it could also be any man she’s ever met at a cocktail party.
There are the twins Marty and Jackie-O, both obsessed with the Kennedy assassination—and both harboring dark secrets.  As the Jacqueline Kennedy wanna-be, Lauren Michaels is maniacal, yet funny…in a very creepy way.  She will make you laugh and frighten you all at the same time.
As Marty, the brother who yearns for some normalcy, Justin Mohr seems normal enough…in a very creepy way.  Mohr is able to quickly shift gears between being a nice guy to being a cold-hearted jerk.
John Steffenauer plays the younger brother Anthony, creating a character that is vulnerable and endearing…in a very creepy way.  Burdened with caring for his crazed and violent sister, Steffanauer is immediately smitten by Marty’s fiancée Lesly, who works in a donut shop (played by Erica Cuenca).  Cuenca is delightful as the fish-out-of-water, the only voice of normalcy in this world of insanity.
Cuenca and Steffenauer share some of the plays best scenes.  The subtleties and the silences they share are so telling.  Each is able to say so much with a single look or gesture.
Director Parrish keeps the play moving at a solid pace.  There are some uncomfortable bumps in the road, however.  Twice during the show (and I don’t want to give anything away), one of the actors is blocked to break the “fourth wall” which seemed inconsistent with the overall tone of the play.  After the dramatic climax, Parrish stages a tableau vivant that may destroy the final applause for an audience that is smaller and less-enthusiastic than the one that was there for opening night.
Scenic designer Paul A Shaw once again transforms the small Off The Wall stage with a whole new look, featuring columns, draperies and unusual statuary.  One drawback was Michael E. Moats’ lighting which had some obvious dark spots.
The House of Yes is a roller coaster of comedy and tragedy—and well worth the drive to Washington to see it.  Not only will you have a good time, you’ll feel so much better about your own family!
The House if Yes runs through December 17.